Monday, March 26, 2007

If I'm an NBA team then my coach just called time out.

My last entry says it all.

I wasn't focused on playing poker.

I was on my phone text messaging.

I was playing around with the dealer.

I don't think I really wanted to be at the table.

Usually when these tourneys are over I have a boring bad beat story to share. But when I got knocked out on Saturday it wasn't because of because of any bad luck.

It was because of poor play.

You want excuses?

I was tired. I only had 3 hours sleep the day before.

I was hungry. I hadn't eaten all day. Just caffeine.

I wasn't focused on giving my full attention to the table.

But these aren't good reasons. If I'm not feeling my best then I have no business buying in.

The tournament structure was great. A pleasure to work with. 7500 chips and 40 minute blind levels. They also didn't skip levels like most of these tournaments these days.

I was up to 10500 at the first break. I was in charge of my table. Then I got moved twice in the next hour. At my new table I was suddenly a small stack even though I still had plenty of chips in terms of the average stack. But this table was full of big stacks and apparently I didn't feel comfortable switching gears and playing like a small stack.

Even though the blinds were small. Even though I could have folded for hours.

My tournament basically turned into a comedy of errors with me always one step behind.

My first mistake was calling a preflop raise with a mediocre hand when I should have just folded.

So to make up for this, I folded a pocket pair preflop to a small raise and watched in horror when my set hit on the flop and both players moved all in. I could have tripled up. There was no good reason to fold preflop. But I really think my folding was me somehow trying to make up for not folding the previous hand.

Clearly I wasn't in the moment.

An orbit or two later I hit top pair (holding king 5 in the big blind) and check the flop. (First mistake). So a big stack who limped in preflop now bets and I call. (Second mistake). I need to reraise here. I need to find out if my kings are good. I need to make this person pay if they're drawing. My calling accomplishes none of this. And I know it.

If you forced me to give you a reason for calling here the best I can come up with is that I was scared of their huge stack and didn't want to go out of the tourney with top pair lousy kicker. But I can't have it both ways. If I think my king 5 is no good (ie big stack holds king queen) then I should fold. And if I think it might be the best hand I should raise. But to call is to play losing poker.

"How terrible is wisdom when it brings no profit to the man that's wise."
-Louis Cyphre

I've now drifted below average for chips. However the blinds are still small. We're only at 100/200 with 25 ante so if I show patience I can still fold for hours and wait for a good spot.

But as per the theme of my day I'm still on the last hand. So of course I find myself soon after with top pair. And this time you know I'm gonna raise. Because I didn't last time. I'm ignoring the fact that my opponent raised preflop. (Previously when I didn't raise with my top pair they had just limped in). And of course they show me a big hand.

At least I finally get to go home.

In psychology they say that we fear the thing that has already happened.

And today I proved it.

I suppose the silver lining here is that I can recognize poor play.

Playing bad poker and knowing that you're playing bad poker has to be better than playing bad poker and thinking you're good.

Where does this all leave me?

I think it's time to take a little poker break.

To come back in a week.

I may not be tan.

But I'll be rested and ready.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Vegas Fact #4 part two

In Vegas fact #4 I mentioned that you can use cell phones in cash games but not tournaments.

So I'm playing in a tournament this afternoon while trying to respond to a text message by typing in a few words between each hand. Well the dealer starts to deal as I'm putting my phone back in my pocket and apparently I annoyed him because he declared my hand dead. He never warned me and the truth is half the dealers don't even bother enforcing it. But he declared my hand dead. And he was right.

I actually liked his style and the fact that he ran a tight table but me being me, I had to get the last laugh. So after that anytime I wanted to muck my cards I didn't bother to toss them to him. Instead I simply took out my phone.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Thank God it was Limit

Just got home from a fascinating evening. What I witnessed defied all math and science. I'm not even sure gravity was in effect. I might even have to reassess where I stand on the whole creationism argument.

I've been having some success at limit lately. It feels like grinding but it's nice to make money.

Yesterday I passed on playing in tournaments and instead went straight to the limit tables to see what I could make. The best game I found at Caesars was 3/6 limit with a 6/12 kill.

What the kill part means is that when the same player wins two pots in a row the limits jump up from 3/6 to 6/12. So when you're playing the graveyard shift with a table full of loose aggressive drunk maniacs the pots can get really huge.

There's actually not that many limit options available in Las Vegas due to no limit's popularity. At Caesars the biggest game they spread is 4/8. The big game in town that everyone talks about is 15/30 limit at the Bellagio. My plan is to go there this weekend with $750 and try it out.

So needless to say I was psyched to see the 6/12 kill in effect.

I sat down to play around Midnight. I left the table at 8:30 A.M. And I can't recall ever seeing the best hand win. It was an utterly amazing run of cards.

I don't want to turn this blog into a bad beat diary. But I do want to run through some of the hands so that I can come back here in the future and remember the specifics of what I saw on this night.

Early on my pocket kings lose to pocket 4's flopping a set. It happens.

Soon after I raised with pocket 9's in a kill hand. The board was all undercards. 8, 7, 3. Someone bet. I raised. No reraise back at me. I feel good. The turn was a 2. I really can't ask for a better board with pocket 9's. Another 3 came on the river. I bet. I get reraised. I gotta pay him off. He turns over ace 3.

I raise preflop with pocket 8's and actually flop a set. One guy bets. I raise. I'm slightly concerned by the two diamonds on the board. 4 people call. A third diamond comes on the turn. Different guy bets. He's pretty loose. I don't think he has flush. And even if he does I can hit full house on river. I reraise. No one reraised behind me so I figure no one has the flush. These guys don't usually try to trap you. If anything the opposite occurs: they reraise with ace high. My raise to two bets was also more about trying to get rid of some of the other players in the hand who surely had their usual gutshots. And of course I don't want to lose to a single diamond in an opponents hand if a 4th one comes on the river. And even though they're probably not folding here I still gotta charge them for it.

The 4th diamond comes on the river. We all check and I lose to a guy holding the 9 of diamonds.

Again, it happens. Just sucks when you hit your first set in awhile.

The most painful hand of the evening was me holding 3 6 of clubs in the big blind. Flop is a 3, along with the 4, 9 of clubs. One bet. A couple of callers. I call too.

Turn is a 5. I now have an open ended straight draw to go with my flush draw. And assuming someone has an overpair or a 9 I also think my hand can win if another 3 or 6 comes on the river. Lets just say I have alot of outs.

One guy bets. Another raises. I make it 3 bets here. I'm feeling good about building this pot.
Now little do I know that my 3's are actually ahead right now. One of my opponents has ace 10. The other jack 10.

Yes. This is who I'm playing with.

So what happens? A 10 comes on the river. This hand was particularly devastating. I'm not even strung out on drugs yet I suddenly feel like Ray Liotta near the end of Goodfellas.

Not that it should matter but somehow if one of the other players turns over an ace 9 I can at least live with knowing that I lost my money chasing. This ending was way more disturbing.

I had the best hand. And I had the best draws. And I still couldn't win.

It happens.

So what do I do? I rebuy.

I want to go home. It's obviously not my night. But these guys are just too bad not to keep playing with.

Soon after I'm holding ace 10 on the button in a 6/12 kill game. Three guys limp. Now they can have anything here but I really think they'd raise with ace jack or better. So I take the lead and raise with my ace 10.

The flop comes out 5,9 10. I bet. Another guy raises. A third guy calls and is all in. By now I'm shell shocked. I actually don't raise back here. I just call. It might be incorrect but since he's not gonna fold anyway I figure lets see the turn.

2 on turn. Okay this feels safe. I check. He bets. Now normally I'd raise here. But like I said, I'm shell shocked. And he ain't folding if I bet.

Jack comes on river. Something tells me to check. He bets. I call.

I lose to his jack 8. He had an open ended straight draw on the flop. He wasn't folding. And even though I played it incorrectly by not raising, the way my night was going I take solace in the fact that I saved money. (It doesn't get more "loser" than this. Knowing that you're going to lose so you save money when you're ahead. I know this isn't right. Just being honest.)

I haven't won a hand in over an hour. One way you know things aren't going your way is when dealers get up and change and you realize you haven't tipped that dealer because you haven't won a hand since they sat down.

And yes it occurred to me that I hadn't tipped the past 3 dealers.

Yeah sure I can't win a pot. But think of all the money I'm saving on tips.

I still can count 4 very bad players at this table. So I stay.

I decide to go back to the basics. Lets not even play ace 10 anymore. Lets just try playing top 10 hands. And things like suited connectors. This has to be a long term profitable strategy against 4 or 5 players who are playing pretty much any two cards.

I fold for an orbit or two. Then I get ace king. I raise. I miss the flop. I fold.

This happens again with ace queen. I raise. I miss. I fold.

I get king queen suited on button. This time I raise and actually flop a king. I get heads up with the exact player I want to isolate. He's a guy who constantly goes to the river and bluffs trying to win every pot. On this hand he actually connected as well. He's holding king 3. He also has top pair but with his shitty kicker he obviously wants to pay me off.

At a good table I'd lose this hand to a guy with ace king. At this table he hits a 3 and beats my king queen with two pair.

I can't tell you how many times I watch this guy wins with bad cards. He was up like 500 bucks in an hour or two at a 3/6 table. He will eventually lose all his money. He has to. His actions cannot succeed long term. But unfortunately I won't be there when he loses it.

I take out another 100 dollar bill and place it on the table underneath my dwindling chips in case I get a good hand. But this is it for me. If I can turn it around I'll try to win back my money. But otherwise I'm starting to feel the fact that its close to 8 A.M.

I get ace queen again in middle position. All the usual suspects have limped in. I raise it.

Flop comes queen high with two clubs. I bet and get the usual couple of callers.

The bad player who's up 500 bucks leads out on turn. I reraise him. He calls.

Third club comes on river. He bets. I gotta pay him off. He turns over the 3 6 of clubs.

I'm done.

The part that's hard for me to come to terms with is there was definitely a point when I just sort of knew this wasn't my night. (IE. My not reraising with ace 10 on the 10 high flop). You just start to feel like you're gonna get sucked out on. It's almost like I started to expect not to hit when I had a draw. And of course I expected them to catch up when I was ahead.

However this conflicts with the math logical side of my brain that says no way. My inner feelings cannot and do not effect the cards that come out of the deck. I can be as negative as I want. Obviously I'll agree that my inner feelings effect the way people play against me. But as far as controlling or willing bad stuff to happen. No way. That's all internal just B.S. I just gotta keep playing the right side of the math.

It's also fair to mention that the big hands that I won tonight at this table all came from shit cards too. I won a huge pot with 5 10 suited on a 5,5,4,4, king board.

There was something about this table. The biggest hand of the night was won by a guy with pocket 6's. He stayed in after the flop was ace king king. The Ace and king were diamonds. The turn a queen of diamonds. Yes there was capping on every street. There were bigger boat and of course royal flush possibilities. And yet this guy with pocket 6's hit a 3rd 6 on the river to make a boat. When he reraised he didn't even know for sure that his boat was good.

That's the kind of game it was. And that's why I stayed there. These were terrible players. If I keep getting in there with the best of it I eventually have to win. Even despite the power of negative thinking.

I think the real problem is that I won't necessarily win money during the 8 hours I played with them. I need a much larger sample of hands for the true math to take over.

But like I said it's a tough one to resolve emotionally. If I thought my play was getting poorer because I was frustrated then obviously I gotta leave. But overall I think I still was exercising decent patience and playing each hand correctly. A couple of different rivers and I'm probably writing to you about how easy it is to make a living playing poker. Of course for most of last night it felt impossible.

And of course the most amazing part of the evening is that since I was playing limit poker I only ended up losing 400 on the night despite losing all these big hands.

I've lost more than that in one hand at no limit a few too many times this year.

Which is one of the reasons why I'm was chilling at the limit table to begin with.

I'm going to sleep without editing this. If I'm repetitive or there are glaring errors that's my excuse. God bless evolution. And the people of Kansas. And Omaha. And Texas Hold em.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Rake

I played on the internet yesterday.

Can I already say it was a nostalgic experience?

There's definitely a different high for me than playing live. The speed. The number of hands per hour. Crazy rushes good and bad. The ability to play multiple games at once. And of course the variety of games....tourneys, sit & go's, heads up and full ring cash games. Boom boom boom.

A good time indeed.

After sitting in front of the computer clicking on a mouse again I'm prepared to say that at this point in time players on the internet are way better at poker than live players.

I guess they have more of a purpose for being there. Half the players at live poker tables in Vegas are just there to kill time. Have a good experience. Maybe get lucky. But they're completely prepared to lose their buy in.

On the internet other than the beginners, people are playing to win. Alot of them are too aggressive. But it serves a purpose. And if you think about what a hassle it is (not to mention the stigma) to fund an online poker account these days, what you get left with today are good online players.

AKA: The players who don't need to make new deposits.

I usually play on the better known sites that you see advertised on TV.

However I have also played a little bit on a smaller site called the World Poker Exchange. And this is going to sound like a commercial. But this site is by far the best one out there.

It has nothing to do with the players. (Usually you want to try to play with bad players).

It has nothing to do with the graphics. (Some sites have cooler looking images than others).

It has nothing to do with the games offered. Or the tournaments. Or anything related to the experience of playing.

The reason the World Poker Exchange is the best place to play poker at is that there is no rake.

This is truly phenomenal.

When you play poker (whether it be live or on the internet) a rake is taken from every hand. It might not seem like alot of money to you at first.

Maybe a few dollars from each pot.

But it quickly adds up.

If a group of players sat at a table and played poker forever eventually all the money would be gone. It would go to the rake.

It's just a matter of time.

I sat down last night and began my evening playing heads up 1/2 limit against this guy who I've beaten up on a few times before. He has two moves in his arsenal, one of which is to raise you on the button and if you bet out the flop he ALWAYS reraises.

I feel like I cracked his code. Anytime I have a piece of the flop I lead out. He raises. I call. Then I check raise him on the turn.

We do this over and over again for hours. I let him bully me and win all the small pots and I usually win the bigger ones.

I've now played this guy 3 or 4 times and my task is to take all his money before the rake does.

Last night we both started with 100 dollars. After an hour or so I was up to 130.

And so you'd expect him to have 70.

But he didn't. He only had 40.

Where did the other 30 dollars go?

The rake.

So basically I was up 30, the poker site was up 30. And we were racing for the remaining 40.

This is exactly why it's so hard to make a living playing poker. You're not just trying to beat the other players. You have to beat the rake. It's your toughest opponent.

If no rake existed in poker then perhaps half the players at a table could be winners.

Or at least "not losers" since all the money on the table would just move from player to player.

But with the rake in effect only a small percent of the players are actually making a profit at the table.

A chunk of players who should be making a small profit are instead paying that in to the rake and breaking even. And an even larger group of players who are basically playing even sum poker are now losing a small amount each hour. Again the same concept. The money that would and should have kept these players "even" is instead going into the rake.

Or at least until the World Poker Exchange came along and eliminated the rake.

Actually what they do is even better. Because they still take the rake out of each pot. And then send it back to you every Monday. If they just didn't take out the rake I probably wouldn't really appreciate how good they are. But by taking it out and giving it back to me I can clearly see how ridiculous the rake is.

Especially on the internet. Obviously live casinos have to pay rent, employees, electricity. They're giving you drinks. They have a better excuse for taking money out of every pot.

But on the internet these costs are pretty small. Yet most gaming sites have managed to stick to the live rake format and actually get away with it. Obviously online sites want to make money. It's the reason they're open for business. But the rake they take should be smaller.

(This of course is what our government should be regulating. The rake. Yet when it becomes completely legitimate to deposit money to play online poker again I have this funny feeling that the rake will still be there. The only difference will probably be that we'll be paying it to some big corporation like Harrahs.)

Last night I played on the World Poker Exchange at lower limits for around 3 hours.

And afterwards my cashier page showed that I had accumulated over 60 dollars in rake that would be coming back to me next Monday.

It adds up.

Now all I have to do is "break even" to show a profit.

World Poker Exchange also gives back the rake you pay on their tournaments.

When you enter a "20+2 tournament" the 2 dollar rake that the house would usually keep gets refunded to you as well.

At this point I'm sure you're wondering what the catch is here. How can they run a poker site for free? (Again, I'm not being paid to advertise for them. But I am impressed. And I simply hope their business model effects the way other poker sites decide to structure their rake.)

Here's what their literature says:

It seems too good to be true—how can we offer No Rake poker? Why aren’t other sites doing it? What’s the catch? The answers are actually quite simple.

Most online poker sites have a single revenue stream: collecting upwards of 5% out of every winning pot. In today’s growth-driven industry, it’s simply impossible for them to reduce, let alone eliminate, their single source of income. World Poker Exchange, however, has many sources of revenue, including World Sports Exchange, one of the most successful sportsbooks on the Internet. We’re confident that No Rake poker will deliver major new traffic to our other businesses, including sports wagering, in-running betting, horse racing, and casino wagering.

Now, with 100% of the rake being rebated to your account every week, you’ll only have to worry about outfoxing the other players at your table, rather than having to beat the house as well. This will give all our players a much greater opportunity to achieve a net profit at the tables and will allow them to save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a week. We can’t think of any better way to mark World Sports Exchange’s tenth year in business.

We believe poker should be a fun, free service available to all our customers, rather than a means to “rake” them over the coals. With the advent of No Rake Poker, World Poker Exchange is now the only place where it truly pays to play.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Vegas Fact #4

You can't talk on your cellphone at the poker table during a tournament.

This makes complete sense. Not even in a cheating way. Just simply that you sort of want everyone paying attention to the hand and not having to listen to someone chat away.


Vegas Fact #4:
You can talk on your cellphone at the poker table during cash games.

I guess they want to keep you at the table and figure if you're sitting there for many hours you won't have to miss any hands if you have to take a call. But this sort of went too far the other night when I sat next to a guy who was on his phone the entire time (2-3 hours) I was at the table.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Graveyard Shift

The "Sports Guy" Bill Simmons occasionally writes his columns on in a format he likes to calls his "running diary."

So with a shout out to Bill, I now offer you good reader a running diary of last night.

10:04 p.m. (PST):
I take my second shower of the day in an attempt to wash some of the March Madness off of me. I've been betting the college basketball this week and I've been incredibly accurate. No matter which side I take it manages to lose. When I get into one of these losing streaks it should make complete sense to just stop betting. But I'll also admit I become somewhat fascinated by the streak itself. It's almost like an experiment testing the strength of my negative powers. Or as I like to call it "The Power of Negative Thinking." And I'm not the only loser. I'm only losing money. But I ask what about the kids? These young college athletes giving their best practicing all year long to play in the biggest game of their lives and then little old me coming along 5 minutes before they take the floor, laying some cash on them and poof their dream is over.

10:16 p.m. (PST): I had a good poker session the other night after listening to a Dave Matthews CD on my drive to the Strip. Guess what music was playing in the car tonight?

10:28 p.m. (PST): I pull into the Caesars Palace valet area. A few of these valet dudes work really hard to get a tip from you on both ends. They become almost too helpful. It starts with a legitimate "Do you know where you're going?" (Uh...through the doors with the sign that says Casino?) But then some of them just don't stop. They turn into your own personal assistant.

It got to the point last week where finally asked one guy if he and his co-workers pooled tips. Because of course I'm gonna tip on my way out. This seems like when most people give them money. And if I tip them half now and half on my way out then I'm sort of punishing the guy who gets my car.

His comeback was that I probably wasn't gonna see him again and this would be my only chance to hit him up. Of course ignoring the fact that he's bringing other people their cars that he didn't park.

So if I think it's appropriate to spend 10 bucks on the entire valet parking experience, I'm now torn between giving 5 on each end or the whole 10 when I leave.

These are the questions I struggle with.

10:37 p.m. (PST): I buy in for the 11pm tourney. I'm already "alternate #17" because the usual tournament room is being used for NCAA basketball viewing and they're only using 6 tables that seat 54 people at a time. March Madness is screwing me off the court too.

10:39 p.m. (PST): I get on the list for the 2/5 no limit and 4/8 limit figuring I can play a few hands before the tourney.

10:51 p.m. (PST): I haven't moved up the list at all so I decide to take a walk outside the poker room and people watch the folks waiting to get into Caesar's club PURE. It's such a trip. They have three lines. A VIP one. A second line for woman only. And a third line for civilians which is non-VIPS who aren't female. I think we call these people "guys." I'm not sure which line is my favorite to make fun of. And just think back in the depression people used to wait in line for bread. Now they wait in line to sit at a table that requires you buy a $500 bottle of alcohol.

10:52 p.m. (PST): In case this isn't enough stimulus there's also something called the "Pussy Cat Dolls Casino" going on in the middle of these lines. Two woman dance around polls while other scantily clad women deal blackjack, etc.

I like the fact that you don't have to dance to work for the Pussy Cat Dolls. You can also be part of the team if you're good at math.

Remember back in elementary school when you were learning how to add and subtract and that stripper chick sitting next to you was like "When are we ever going to need to know this stuff?"

Now the teacher can just say to her "When you're dealing black jack in Vegas. That's when."

11:04 p.m. (PST): I go back to the tournament area and they're already up to alternate #11.

11:32 p.m. (PST): Blinds go up to 50/100 and I still haven't been called. Suddenly this tournament seems like a real bad idea. I'm going to sit down and have to start out play with larger blinds and stacks twice my size.

11:34 p.m. (PST): I finally get seated. What follows now is "HOW NOT TO PLAY IN A TOURNAMENT." Not that I want to brag but I think I might have managed to play every hand incorrectly. Here goes.

11:36 p.m. (PST): I start out with my 2500 chips and the first hand I'm paying 50 in the small blind. It gets folded around and a large stack makes a button move and raises to 300. I have pocket 2's. Looking back on the evening now I just wish I had repopped him. I thought about it at the time but I was too concerned with how pathetic it would have felt to get knocked out on my first hand after wasting an hour waiting to play. Folding would have been alright too. But no, I gotta figure out how to play this as poorly as possible.

So I call.

Out of position.

Unless a 2 flops I have no idea where I'm at with the hand.

A 2 doesn't flop. Instead it's a jack and two rags. I can lead out. But I check. He bets 500. I only have 2200 chips left so I obviously can't call. I can raise and hope he hasn't hit the flop. Or I can fold. I choose to fold.

11:46 p.m. (PST): I get Ace King in early position and lord knows why but I mini raise to 200. Maybe I'm hoping to get reraised? The bet though scares everyone and I only get one caller, a woman in the big blind. Flop comes out 10, 9, 2. She leads out with a 200 bet out of position and of course I should let it go.

So I call.

As an aside, it's hard to play much poker in these small stack buy ins. You just have to find a hand and go for it. Of course usually it's one where you've hit. Like the other night I flopped a king with my ace king and got knocked out on the first orbit when someone hit two pair. I definitely had the double up or go play cash games strategy. However in this spot my call makes no sense.

She checks the turn. I bet out 400 hoping her weakness means she was trying to take the pot on the flop and will now give up. Nope. She calls. Now I'm done with the hand.

Another 9 comes out on the river and she leads out for 500. This card also fills a flush which is fun cause it gives me the chance to act and shake my head and pretend I had her till that darn river came out. I say nice hand and muck. She shows ace 9. Yep.

11:48 p.m. (PST): I'm in the blind with pocket 8's. I think I have around 1300 left. Guy in middle position makes it 500. He has around 1000 total. I'm ready to take him on. But then the woman who beat me in the ace king hand smooth calls. Now I'm scared. I wanted to fight the other small stack with my 8's. If I come over the top I think he has to call me. But now she'll be pot committed and getting 2 to 1 on her money. I didn't want to take on two hands that have shown strength with pocket 8's. So I muck. This also maybe could have been a spot for the stop and go. I could have smooth called the 500 preflop and then crossed my fingers and moved all in on the flop since I would have acted first.

Since I chose to muck, of course the flop came out with 3 under cards. And as if this wasn't bad enough, the 8 came on the turn to fill up my non existing set. And as if that wasn't bad enough, when the cards got turned over, the gentleman and his ace king didn't improve. And the woman who smooth called won the pot with her pocket 3's.

11:49 p.m. (PST): I start jotting down notes for my new one man show called called "ALL THE WRONG MOVES."

12:01 a.m. (PST): I've mucked 5 or 6 times in a row. I have one hand left in me. I want something fun to show down with. On the last hand before the break I pick up pocket 10's. Perfect. I push the rest of my stack in. Probably around 950. I get called. Which is I what wanted. It's the old "double me up or set me free" moment. He has pocket jacks. Perfect ending to my show. I fold the 8's to the 3's. And get all in with the 10's versus the Jacks. We can even write in the program notes that "ALL THE WRONG MOVES" is based on a true story.

12:05 a.m. (PST): I exit the casino and decide some fresh air is the move. Menthol fresh. I walk next door to The Mirage.

12:23 a.m. (PST): I look around the room for a loose limit game. I care less about the stakes than whether or not the people are drinking and straddling. I find my game.

12:27 a.m. (PST): As if I needed further proof, the first thing the guy next to me says is "I didn't come to Vegas to fold." Meanwhile that's exactly why I live here. So I can fold.

12:42 a.m. (PST): I'm card dead for the first 15 minutes. It's getting to the point where everyone is noticing that I haven't played a hand. So I raise on the button with suited connectors. 3 callers. I miss the flop but bet anyway. They all fold. It's amazing that you can have a tight image pay off even at lower limits.

12:47 a.m. (PST): The drunk guys have been great. Reraising each others straddles. Doing their best to build pots. Problem is I'm still card dead. Then they decide to leave. I switch tables.

1:06 a.m. (PST): I suck out on a guy wearing a "Love sucks but true love swallows" t-shirt. It was good to win the pot but the best effect of this hand is that everyone at the table saw my cards and now thinks I'm a poor player.

1:07 a.m. (PST): I order a drink to complete my image.

2:07 a.m. (PST): The table has had the same players for the past hour and everyone has made themselves known. The guy to my left in seat 2 never folds his top pair even after straight or flushes come out. The best part is he'll still lead out so he keeps getting check raised when he's beat. He won't be around too long. The woman in seat 5 always calls you down with any piece of the board but never raises. She'll actually make money at this game since the players bluff too often. She's taking alot of pots from the guy in seat 8 who keeps bluffing with a preflop raise once an orbit and then continue betting the whole way. He's folded all 3 times that I've checkraised him on the river. Next time I think I'm just gonna call for entertainment value so I can see his cards. The guy in 9 is just plain bad. He's bought in 3 times.

3:15 a.m. (PST): The players in seat 2 and seat 9 both ran out of money. Other than the guy in seat 8, the remaining players at this table are tight. No need to stay.

3:27 a.m. (PST): I go back to Caesars to play some late night limit. The table is just what I want. Guys are reraising each other in the dark and then going to the river capping pots without looking at their cards. Meanwhile they're actually winning pots with hands like 3,7 hitting a 3 when their sober opponents call them down with ace high.

3:41 a.m. (PST): Drunk guy check raises me on the flop. I ask him if he's looked at his cards. He says yes. I raise him back and tell him that he's far more dangerous when he doesn't look at his cards. I'm being honest.

4:03 a.m. (PST): Guy straddles. I reraise with king jack. Flop comes king, rag, rag all hearts. I have top pair and the jack of hearts against a random hand. This is always a strange moment in terms of power of negative thinking. Like if I'm winning with my kings then I don't want another heart to come. But of course if he has a hand like king, queen of spades then I need a heart to win. So I'm not sure what to "root for" as if this makes a difference. No more hearts comes. I turn over my king jack. He turns over two baby hearts and wins a rather large pot. If I only knew I needed a 4th heart I could have used the power of negative thinking and repeated my mantra "No heart. No heart."

4:41 a.m. (PST): Similar hand in reverse. Guy straddles. This time I have jack, 8 of diamonds. I raise on the button fully expecting the entire table to call. That's the kind of poker we're playing. No fold'em hold'em. Check out this flop: 9 of diamonds. 10 of diamonds. 2 of diamonds. I already have a flush. And if queen or 7 of diamonds come I'll hit a straight flush draw and win one of the poker room's big hand bonuses. Although in terms of winning the hand I'd obviously prefer not to see another diamond come out. Raises are flying everywhere. Eventually on the turn I end up in a raising battle with a guy who holds queen, 9. He has top pair and unfortunately the queen of diamonds. I check and call when the 4th diamond comes out on the river. There goes another big pot.

4:43 a.m. (PST): I begin work on my new one man show called "LIFE ISN'T FAIR AND NEITHER IS POKER" which is based on the last two hands. I've already got the pitch worked out. The latest collaboration from the Producers of "ALL THE WRONG MOVES" and the writers of "HOW NOT TO PLAY IN A TOURNAMENT." Now I just need to get my agent in LA on the phone to pitch it but the problem is that it's 4:43 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. It doesn't occur to me till later that the fact that no one is awake to answer my call only further proves the validity of the project.

5:56 a.m. (PST): We're back in the poker twilight zone. The entire table is drunk, playing every hand, and playing poorly. For the past hour and a half the drunk guy to my right takes the dealer button and sticks it onto his forehead when he has the button. 3 consecutive dealers have looked down to the table and asked "Where's the button?" By this time I don't even answer. I just point.

6:11 a.m. (PST): Drunk guy straddles. Other drunk guy reraises in dark. I call on button with 6,7 suited. We see jack high flop. Everyone checks. We see rag turn. Everyone checks. King comes on river. They both check. I bet because it's the only way I can the pot. A discussion about which strip clubs not to go to ensues between the drunk guys. Dealer finally reminds them that they're in the pot. They both fold.

7:04 a.m. (PST): I'm card dead and it's absolute torture. I'm seeing more flops than I should be because drunk guys keep reraising the whole way with nothing. But I just can't find a darn hand that hits.

7:26 a.m. (PST):
I pick up pocket kings. They raise for me. I don't reraise preflop because I don't want to alarm them that I'm even in the pot. Some more betting and raising on the flop. Turn comes. Drunk guy checks. Uh oh. Why didn't he just bet? He bets every other time.

I ignore the message and bet. He check raises me.

He he. It's 7:26 a.m. and I'm getting out played by a drunk guy.

Fine buddy. You got me. I can't fold. But I'll pay you off on the river.

He whispers to me that he has nothing and then checks the river.

Of course everything is telling me to check here. But I bite and bet.

Don't you know it. He check raises me again!

I'm cracking up now. This is fun. I guess I'm the sucker.

I'm obviously committed to paying him off. I throw my chips towards him. And he throws his cards into the muck.


7:45 a.m. (PST): I can't take it anymore. Physically I obviously feel like crap. But the problem is more mentally. It takes 5 minutes to play every hand . The dealer has to remind the players who's turn it is and what their options are. Also other than the kings I haven't had a hand in like 3 hours. I'm actually losing money to the other sober player as we battle each other to get heads up with the drunk guys.

7:46 a.m. (PST): I'm putting my chips into the rack. The dealer sees me getting ready to leave and says "You must not like money huh?"

7:49 a.m. (PST): As I'm walking to the valet I reach into my pocket for my valet claim card and feel my car keys. Oh shit. How did they park my car? My stomach drops. Over 9 hours have passed. Was my car towed? How did they deal with this?

7:51 a.m. (PST): I step outside into the morning and see my car parked in the middle lane of the entrance exactly where I left it when I came in. I feel pretty embarrassed. I go and start it up. I guess the good news is I saved the 10 bucks I'd give the guy to go get it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What I was doing at 6:02 AM this morning.

In an effort to shake things up I played some live limit poker last night.

No limit is certainly my specialty but I spent alot of time playing limit on the internet back during the good old days of 2004/2005. Before Bill Frist and his friends decided it was bad for me.

I was one of those guys multi tabling with 4 windows. Eventually it seemed more interesting and profitable to focus on no limit. But the math part of me still enjoys the game.

Many things have been written comparing the two games.

No limit is art. Limit is science.

I don't have Barry Greenstein's book Ace On The River in front of me right now so I'm paraphrasing here but I believe he wrote something like "In limit I play my cards. In no limit I play my opponents cards."

What he's saying is that in no limit you can get creative. You figure out what you think your opponent is holding and react to their hand. You can make moves (ie. large bets) to bluff them off or to make others believe you hold a certain hand. There is so much more going on in terms of reading players. Actions and reactions.

In limit it's all math. Once you're in a hand in many cases it's usually not correct to fold. You find two good cards and as long as you have the correct odds of winning you stay in there. Since the bets are limited you can't win or lose too much at once. However over time you can earn alot of money since you can continually exploit mistakes in your opponents strategies.

Bluffing has less effect when playing limit since you're not going to get most people to fold their cards for such a small bet. The game is more about building large pots when you hold good cards and winning enough of those overall occurrences to be profitable.

Like if I hold ace king suited and you hold pocket queens and there are 4 other players who called preflop, we both want to be reraising each other to get more money in from the other 4 inferior hands. It's not necessarily that I'm gonna win this particular hand or that you are. But we are both going to make our long term profit by punishing the other players for playing their bad cards. For example we both want to charge a player who holds king 10 and comes along for all the preflop bets. He will win this pot less often than we will. And so we want to get him to put as much money into the pot as possible. That's our job. Then whatever happens, happens.

I have given some thought lately to the idea that my win rate might be more consistent at a limit table. I won't win or lose as much as playing limit. It can get boring and feel like grinding. There's certainly not the excitement of being able to win or lose a whole buy in in one hand. But there's also nothing wrong with getting paid.

So with that in mind I wandered over to the limit section last night. I was prepared to play some 10/20. But the highest stakes offered were only 3/6. I sat down anyway.

And then the fun started.

Usually my no limit tables are full of tough guys. Old men. Professionals on vacation. And internet poker kids in sunglasses.

At my limit table last night were 4 old ladies. 2 handicapped guys. And a boyfriend and girlfriend on spring break. People you'd actually want to be friends with.

At my no limit tables there's always an intensity. People staring each other down while taking way too long to make a decision because they think they're at the final table of the World Poker Tour.

At my limit table everyone was laughing. Drinking. Having a good time.

You haven't really had fun living in Las Vegas until you've been check raised on the river by a tiny little old lady who you can barely see over the table.

In my first orbit I lost two big pots. I had second best full house and lost to the best full house held by this Russian woman from NY who I guess I shouldn't have reraised again after she reraised me the second time.

Then on the next hand I lost with my trips and a queen kicker to trips and a king kicker held by another gentleman.

Inside my head I immediately began to mock myself. I can't even beat a 3/6 limit game.

But this second hand spoke volumes. He reraised me with trips even though there were flush and straight possibilities on the board. In other words, I was playing with poor players.

Time would make me a profit. And it eventually did.

As the night went on the game got livelier and livelier. As it became 1 or 2 am I was the only original member at the table. We were now full of 20 and 30 somethings. We were doing shots of tequila.

At the no limit table I don't drink. Here, I suggested we order a second round.

Negreanu always talks about the importance of having a good time at the poker table to try to relax your opponents. This is so true at limit. No single bet is gonna kill anyone. You don't want a tight table of people folding. It's 6 freaking dollars. You want everyone to be having a good time. Playing way too many pots. Playing incorrectly.

You want the table theme to be "Of course I'm gonna call you the whole down with my gutshot draw. And occasionally I will suck out on you. But don't worry. You can call me with crap the next hand and win it back." Limit rocks.

Inevitably when you play this way and everyone is drinking and 6 people are seeing every flop hands like pocket aces have absolutely no chance of holding up. All of the big pots I won last night were always with the worse starting hand. You need to hit BS to win at these games. At higher limit money levels less players see each flop. And so good cards have a better chance of holding up. There's alot more raising and reraising to weed out the pack. Not here.

Around 3 or 4 am the game officially crossed over into the twilight zone. All the responsible kids left. The drunk ones stayed. And more joined us. In fact one guy, a doctor who had left an hour earlier came back to the table with a hooker.

This really happened.

The best part is she bought in to play.

I had been trying to leave for hours and desperately wanted to go home and go to sleep but now I just had to stay. For you guys. And of course for my bankroll.

She was great for the game in two ways.

Number one she put on a show. She started sex talking everyone. She showed the table her breasts. Now I might normally feel bad for someone like this but she was so freaking comfortable in who she was and what she was doing that she made it okay.

And number two she played every single hand. She bet or raised every time the action came to her. She kept firing off lines like "I tip the valet 20 bucks, of course I'm gonna bet 6 dollars."

She also wanted to keep going all in and thus she complained often ("I hate that rule") about the 3 dollar preflop limit.

She made the game good.

At this point I was playing any two cards. With this kind of action you just have to see a flop.

I kept going to the showdown with her if I hit anything at all. Some of the other players at the table were scared of her. But I figured all I needed to beat was a random hand.

The first hand I flopped top pair but she beat me when we she hit her gutshot straight on the river. For some reason she didn't bet it after betting every other street chasing. I think she didn't know she hit a straight.

Then I got hot and won three other hands where she helped create gigantic pots for me. I should also give a shout out to the two drunk guys to my right who were reraising each other preflop without looking at their cards.

The best one was me holding ace 3 in the big blind. Flop came out 3,3, rag. She bets, drunk guy raises. Repeat. The three of them bet it all the way to the river. On the river I checked to her and she bet. This time the drunk guys both folded.

I check raised. She called me down with 9 high.

This is what I've become.

I'm check raising hookers at 3/6 limit poker at 6:02 am.

This could have gone on all day as far as I was concerned. Lets order some coffee. But it all fell apart after she won a big pot from one of the drunk guys who then threw a tantrum. He insisted she was colluding with the guy who she came in with. The floor guy was called over. She insisted that she wasn't colluding. She said she was saying "sexy stuff" to him. Then she gave a few examples. But this was too much to handle for the drunk kids.

So the drunk kid then verbally attacks her with some comment. He asks how many guys she's slept with. Come on dude. You lost a pot at 3/6. Get over it.

But he can't. He goes on to say he wants to buy her for 5 dollars. I want to mention that when I was getting my car at the valet I saw her leave in a brand new BMW so his estimation of her price was probably as good as his poker game.

The gross part though wasn't this woman's sex talk but rather that the drunk guys were actually colluding. They kept showing each other their cards. They kept saying stuff to me like lets both reraise each other and then we can split the pot.

I just tried to just ignore them. But in a classic junior high school moment the drunk guy kept whispering to me asking me what I had and the dealer freaking yells at me. So now I flip out. I've been playing with this dealer for a month. He knows my face. He knows I hardly ever say a word at the table. It's 6 in the morning, I'm the only other sober person here and he thinks I'm the problem?

It all turned into the WWF. The floor man yelling at the hooker. The hooker yelling at the drunk guy. The drunk guy still asking me what I have. And me yelling at the dealer. Best of all we're still in the middle of a hand.

When it all quieted down the game immediately fell apart which was a damn shame too.

I finally found some players that I'm better than.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Caesars Noon Tourney

77 players. I came in 6th. Overall it was a good performance.

We started with 4500 in chips. At the first break after two 40 minute levels I had close to 6000. Didn't do anything too fancy.

My table broke and I got moved to a new table full of really weak tight players. I was able to build my stack all the way up to around 12k without ever showing a hand.

This the key to tournament poker. Avoiding showdowns. Any time you show down cards, any two cards can win. But any time you can bet and win a pot before the river, there's no risk. No sucking out.

No hand is a big enough favorite. No hand is unbeatable.

The ultimate goal would be to win a poker tournament where the only hand shown down would be the final hand of the tournament.

Once I got up to 12k I started taking on the smaller stacks in position with any two cards. This is usually the point where I can really turn into a chip monster. I've learned how to snowball. However on this day I just couldn't win any of these races and as blinds got up to 600/1200 I actually dropped all the way back down to around 5k.

That's the bad news. The good news is that I actually have alot of fun when my stack gets smaller because my decisions are way easier. If I have a medium stack I have to tread more carefully. But with a small stack it's actually kind of freeing. All in or fold.

I got moved to a new table and bullied my way back up to 24k by the next break. By now we were down to two tables and only 9 players were getting paid. The way life works, I went card dead for the next 45 minutes. I folded. And folded. At least my neighbors noticed and I was able to steal a pot here and there. But I was basically running in place. Or bleeding away chips. I couldn't find anything to play a big pot with.

When we got down to 10 players I had 18k and picked up ace queen on the button. By far the best hand I had seen in a long time. Blinds were 1000/2000 with 200 ante.

Now alot of players do the stop and go here (bet like half their stack and push in the other half on the flop) but I had a funny feeling the big stack would call a smaller bet. And if I missed the flop I didn't want to have him lead out from the blind and take away my position. But mainly I thought he'd call anything less than an all in. So I pushed.

Just like I expected, the big stack took awhile to decide. I finally looked him in the eye and said "Whatever you do is fine with me." And it really was. I was sick and tired of being a small stack. I was sick of not seeing any playable hands. I knew the final table was about to happen. I wanted to go there with some chips. I told him "Call me and double me up or else let me go to dinner."

I think he may have thought I was trying to talk him into folding because he obliged and called me with king 3. How's that for having too many chips?

And boy was I grateful my hand held up.

Now I went to final table with some chips and was back in action. I was back to winning pots without ever showing cards. This is poker.

Every tournament has one key hand and mine came against a Vegas kind of guy, an older gentleman who's face I've seen around. Basically there are two types of people playing poker at noon on a Monday. People on vacation. And guys like him. If he's not playing poker you'd probably find him at the track. (For what it's worth, I don't think of myself as a guy like him. I like to think of myself as retired and poker is simply my hobby. All I need to complete my biography is grandchildren.)

So this guy has been playing too many hands all day. He raises alot preflop and then fires out on every flop. Then the turn. And if you haven't gotten the message, he's gonna bet the river.
I know his style. I can reraise him to take away hands. But most of all I'm waiting for a big hand to really hurt him with.

At the final table he raised a few hands in a row. He's correct in his strategy. The blinds are way too huge (now 2000/4000/400) for everyone. But all I need is an inkling of a hand and we're going all in. He pushed all in again when I had the button but nothing to call with. On the next hand he pushed all in under the gun when I looked down in small blind and saw ace king suited. Bingo.

We both had 35k in chips. The winner of this hand would now be the table chip leader and have the inside track to winning the tournament. The loser is out.

Since he had been raising so much I didn't think he had a pair here. I put him on something like ace jack. Or even something as weak as king queen that's gonna be trailing any ace. If he actually has a pair we're gonna race. But I really felt good about this call.

(One more "For what it's worth": there are other players that I'd actually fold ace king against preflop. But that's another story for another day).

So I call and he turns over ace queen offsuit.

Thank you very much.

I'm a 73 to 22% favorite to win the pot. (We tie around 5% of the time).

Flop is all rags.

Turn a rag.

With only the river to come I'm now a 93.18 to 6.82 % favorite.

And then 6.82 happened. The river was a queen.

Poof. I'm gone.

I know those beats happen all the time. I live them.

What I want to take away from today is:

-I showed improvement in reading my opponents cards. There were a couple of hands where I just knew exactly what the other players had. Like on one hand I was sure that the guy had a medium pocket pair like 10's and not a big ace. In another hand I knew my opponent hit middle pair. Three years ago I had no idea how to tell the difference. Now I can smell it.

-I'm winning more pots than before without showing down cards. I'm really starting to think this is the secret to poker.

-My hands were better thought out. I tried to think through my options of what to do before each card came out of the deck. Each bet, call, raise or fold I made had a larger purpose.

-I switched gears as much as possible. It's becoming alot of fun to play like a maniac. I was going deep into hands with cards as bad as 6,9 knowing full well that my opponents had no idea what I held.

-I had a good feel for when to be patient and fold hands as strong as king queen. And when necessary I fearlessly turned it up and pushed with less impressive cards like jack, 9 and 5, 7 suited.

It's been a real strange year so far.

I haven't made much money overall.

But I feel like I'm getting my Masters degree in poker.

And then hopefully I'm going to get paid and take everyone to Sizzler.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The Mathematics of Poker comes to life

I spent the past day reading "The Mathematics of Poker" by Bill Chen and Jerrod Ankenman. A really fascinating book. I think of myself as a math guy but there was plenty of stuff I had to peruse a few times to grasp what the hell they were talking about. You know how you can tell I'm a math guy? The fact that I tried to use the word peruse in the last sentence.

Lets just say it's one of those books that definitely needs to be reread a few times.

I try to read most of the poker books that come out. At this point it's obviously not me learning how to play. My literary journey has more to do with wanting to keep up with what different players are thinking. By reading these various authors I can understand and identify the new moves that people are trying to copy. I think a pretty good example of this was in Dan Harrington's book where he explained the squeeze play. Ever since Harrington's book came out I've seen someone make that move every level in every tournament I play. Before his book? Maybe just once or twice a night by a savvy shark.

For those of you unfamiliar with the squeeze play, here's how it works. Someone opens the pot for a raise, and a second guy calls. You look down and then push with any two cards. As long as the first guy doesn't have aces he'll usually fold. And you figure the second guy will fold too since if he had anything worth calling your all in with, he would have raised in the first place.

As I mentioned in a previous entry, I've actually started to try to pick off this squeeze play in early or middle position by smooth calling a raise when I have a big pair and then hope it gets popped behind me. If you try this at home my warning to you is that if it doesn't get reraised behind you and a bunch of people get to see the flop you gotta be willing to throw your pair away if there's alot of action.

Back to The Mathematics of Poker. These guys take topics such as game theory and actually apply them to poker. For years I've read various math experts imply that game theory is valuable at the poker table but there hasn't been too much textwise to explain it.

The best thing this book does though is back up theories with solid mathematical evidence. For example there's a whole section devoted to exploiting your opponents by betting your draw hands. This isn't at all a brand new concept. But again the wonderful part is all of their math formulas proving why it's correct. The sample hand they use is a straight flush draw taking on pocket aces. Then they illustrate how straight flush draws benefit from getting all the money into the pot on the flop. And how this exact same hand is played incorrectly if the money goes in on the turn (when your odds aren't as good to hit your draw).

While reading this section today I was sort of laughing to myself how this specific hand didn't seem like it would really matter that often since most of the time I either have a flush draw (9 outs) or a straight draw (8 outs) but not usually the two together (15 outs). And so everything they're saying about how to bet with 15 outs doesn't necessarily apply to situations where I have only 8 or 9 outs.

So of course what happens tonight? I get myself into a raised pot preflop with 9, 10 of diamonds and the flop comes out 7,8 diamonds with an ace. I have a straight flush draw. Weird.

We all check to the preflop raiser and he bets out on the flop. The other guy calls. It's up to me.

I can take it easy and smooth call. But that's not correct.

I can also put in a medium raise. That feels good too. But that's not correct. All I'd be doing is creating a larger pot with worse odds for the river if I miss on the turn. And if I hit my flush or straight I might not be able to get them to put the rest of their money in later on in the hand.

Nope. I know exactly what to do. Mr. Chen and Mr. Ankenman having been proving it to me all day in their book.

I need to push.

I can win a decent size pot right now if everyone folds. That's fine. But I'm not even sure I want them to fold. If they have an ace in their hand I'm ready to gamble.

I get one caller.

I miss on the turn when a 10 comes.

The irony here is that this 10 gives me at least two more outs. How amusing would it be to beat aces with three 10's on the hand that I held a straight flush draw? (We haven't turned over our cards yet so perhaps a 9 giving me two pair wins me the hand as well).

And back to strategy, despite how pretty the board looks if I had just called on the flop I'd now be getting worse odds to call a big bet on the turn. Pushing on the flop takes away having to make a bad call on the turn. Ahhh. The good things in life.

The river unfortunately is a blank. All I end up with is my pair of tens. His ace is good.

The gross part is that he was playing ace rag. He called the 3rd guy's preflop raise of 7x the big blind with ace rag. I was happy at the time that he called the raise cause it gave me 2:1 odds to call as well. Sometimes it's better to not get what you want.

Meanwhile, come on universe! Reward me for playing like that on the flop. Reinforce it. Don't be taking away my buy in.

Can we blame my further bad luck this evening on tilt? I'm still not sure.

A hand or two later I hit two pair on the flop and ran into a set.

I also hit two pair in another hand with ace king and a guy rivered a straight.

I'm so curious if somehow I may have laid down either of these hands if I hadn't just lost a big pot.

And why is it that I think that if I somehow hit my outs on my straight flush hand, those other two hands don't go wrong on me? Why is that?

(For the full effect of my blog reread that last sentence to yourself doing your best Jerry Seinfeld impersonation).

I've read that one of the reasons people consider Phil Ivey to be such a great player is that he never goes on tilt. They say he keeps playing correctly regardless of what might have occurred on the hand before.

So here I was NOT folding my two pair in either hand because I thought that I'd only be folding them because I had just lost a big hand.

And I'm sitting there at the table thinking to myself that everyone else must think I'm on tilt. They don't believe I've hit my hands. So I thought there might be added value to my hands since someone might call me down with top pair. Or even ace high.

Here's the question I gotta answer. If someone called me up on the phone and said "Hey I got two pair for you on a rainbow flop. You just lost a big pot. You wanna come down and play them?"

I think the answer was "yes."

Who knew I shouldn't have picked up the phone?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

10th out of 607

I played a 607 person tournament yesterday and finished in 10th place.

Not too much happened the first few levels.

Then with the blinds at 100/200, I had the good fortune to pick up pocket aces in early position after the guy under the gun limped in.

Back in the old days (which means like a week or month ago) I'd probably raise here. But I've noticed over and over and over again that when you have enough limpers someone usually raises. They'll do it with good cards. But they'll also do it with bad cards. Because they've read about it in a poker book.

And if no one raises and 5 or 6 of us end up seeing the flop, I'm now a good enough human being to muck my aces on the flop. That's right. I can fold aces.

Pocket aces come along so rarely that there becomes this insane urge to play for all your chips with them. But it's so rare that you get someone else to put their chips into the middle unless they have you beat.

But at least you get a good "bad beat" story right?

My plan works on this hand. Some guy in middle position pops it up to 600. Everyone folds back to the guy under the gun. He pushes all in for around 2500. Maybe he has aces too?

I push as well and so does the initial raiser to my left.

Under the gun shows pocket 6's. Guy to my left has pocket kings.

The aces hold up and I've been promoted to table chip leader with around 10k.

One big difference in my game these days versus lets say a year ago is that I'm getting a good feel for how to play with the larger stack. Back in the day I didn't want to do anything stupid so I'd just sort of hang out, wait for cards and eventually the remaining players would catch up in chips.

These days I'm playing alot of pots. I'm giving alot of action. I'm testing people with reraises. I'm putting them to decisions for all their chips. It's not blind aggression. I either have hit the board or at least have a draw. But I'm taking advantage of being able to survive their all in.

My stack grew and grew. I got it up to the 25k range and we were near the bubble when a new guy was brought to the table who had around 30. This slowed me down somewhat. We took turns battling the medium and small stacks. But I basically lost half my action.

It was somewhere around here that we got down to 63 players and all made the money.

With around 50 players left a monster stack (around 90k) came to the table. He sat down and started raising every single hand. It's fascinating to play with a guy like this. Like even when I'm in full bully mode I'm still folding half my hands. But not this guy. Every single hand was a raise. He was willing to double you up if you dared to play with him.

But even with this great opportunity it's still hard to pick a hand that you actually want to gamble your tournament life with. Like I'm probably ahead but do I really want flip a coin with him with my ace rag?

If I have ace 5 and he has a hand as bad as 2,7. he's still going to win the hand 35% of the time. So more than 1 out of 3 times I'm out of the tournament. If we bump him up to something like queen 6 he's winning 40% of the time. If our cards were faced up and I knew for certain he has these hands then I have to play with him. But there's also a chance he has something bad like ace 6 and I'm in huge trouble. And so without me being a desperate small stack it becomes tough to choose my spot to fight him with a medium stack.

I did play back at him a few times. One hand I reraised him with ace 9 from the button hoping he'd fold. Instead he called. At least this was better than him reraising me all in and putting me to that decision. We checked the flop. An ace came on the turn and he bet. I called. He checked the river. The pot was decent sized by now and I didn't want to get reraised if I bet.
I also figured he'd fold if I bet and he had nothing. So I checked too. He had 5 8 and I won the pot.

This maniac actually went out around 30th. Another big stack moved to our table. Maniac raised preflop. Other big stack called. Flop came king high. Maniac bets. Other big stack raises. Maniac goes all in with king 10. Other big stack calls with him with ace king and just like that. Poof. Maniac is gone.

When we were down to around 20 players I went card dead for awhile. As the blinds and antes start getting big there becomes this interesting acceptance over how often each player can raise and steal. It's almost like we're all in the jungle trying to eat. And most players will accept your eating once or even twice an orbit. But once you start taking more than that you're going to face resistance.

Since I wasn't getting cards I wasn't playing too many hands and the table would usually just fold whenever I put in a preflop raise. It's the reward I get for playing tight. For staying in line.

With the blinds at 1500/3000 and a 400 ante I came in from middle position with a raise to 11000. We were down to 14 players (two 7 handed tables) and I started the hand with around 55,000 in chips. I had ace jack. One of those hands I don't love playing. But it's also too strong to fold at this point. Since I've been selective I expect (hope) to get it folded around. I also don't mind calling a small stack going all in with it.

Unfortunately it's the big blind who moves all in. He has more chips than me so if I call I'd be playing for my tournament life. I think most players would insta-call here. But not me. He has shown strength. Pot odds aside, if he has a pocket pair I'm trailing. If he has ace king or ace queen I'm in even worse shape. And of course if he has a pocket pair jacks or larger it's real ugly.

He could be making a move with a hand like king queen. But to his credit, his table image is tight. He hasn't been reraising anyone. He's done nothing to make me think he isn't strong here. And it's also not like I was stealing from the button. I'm a tight player who raised from middle position so he knows I have something.

The irony here is that I have too many chips. If I had less it becomes an easy call. But I still have 44ish which puts me in the middle of the pack. I can still go around the table a couple of orbits. And I assume I can find a better spot to push in where I won't get called.

This is what I love so much about the endgame of tournament poker. You can raise and win the chips in the middle without ever having to showdown. You can only get knocked out if you showdown. So in this spot I chose to fold. So that I didn't have to showdown.

I've discussed this type of hand previously with many tournament players and it's interesting to hear both sides. So many players want to gamble. They need to be the big stack. They don't want to go to the final table with a small stack. I've had alot of success sticking around as one of the smaller stacks. The way I look at it, the chips are still going to be there. In this spot it comes down to the fact that I simply don't want to put my tournament life on the line with a hand like ace jack when my M is still over 5. But both strategies certainly have their merits.

We're not supposed to be results orientated but the other thing that cracks me up about this hand is that if we're on television and could see my our hole cards then I look like a freaking poker savant genius if he has ace queen.

And likewise I'm the weakest most pathetic player on the planet if I folded to ace 10.

Just wanted to mention that.

I survived a few more players and we eventually got down to 10. Two tables of 5. This is where the action gets real fierce. Once you get down to 9 players and form the final table things slow down again since you're getting a break and not paying the blinds 7 out of every 9 hands. But at these 5 handed tables you're in blinds 40% of the time. You have to play fast.

I was 9th in chips with 10 players left. I could have waited to see what happened to the 10th place guy but by this point my stack was in a serious danger zone. Actually this was true for most of us. The blinds had already passed the 2000/4000/500 structure and we were now on 2500/5000 with a 600 ante. That's 10,500 every 5 hands. At this point even the big stacks weren't that healthy in comparison to the blinds.

As for the end:

I got lucky to find a hand as strong as king 10 to push with on the button.

I got unlucky to run into an ace queen in the small blind.

I got lucky to hit a king on the flop.

I got unlucky to see 3 diamonds on the board with him holding the ace of diamonds.

I got lucky to see that my 10 of diamonds took away one of his outs and that I was still a 56% favorite.

I got unlucky when 44% happened and a diamond came on the turn.

I got lucky to have most of my hands hold up and go so far in this tournament.

I got unlucky not to be able to finish it.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Apparently it was real late in Texas

Some nights it's just not your night. For me that was tonight. I just couldn't win.

I guess the good news is most of the time I got in there with the best of it. But overall it never worked out for me.

I played with some really bad players and I noticed a strange trend.

Any time I overbet my hand I got called. It made no sense. So I started experimenting.

Anytime I'd hit the flop or have a draw I'd bet most of my chips. This happened 3 times in the last hour I was playing. And all 3 times I actually got called.

Here were the hands.

My favorite was a flop that had an ace with two hearts. I moved all in. I don't necessarily recommend this move but I just wanted see what would happen. I was giving a flush draw the worst possible odds. And even an ace has to think I have a set or two pair right?

No he doesn't.

A dude actually called me with ace 7, no hearts. Lets just say I won this hand.

On the internet I might have wondered if I was playing against a bot with a bug. Someone please tell the programmer that his bot is calling all ins with top pair and a 7 kicker. But this was a real human being. I guess my overbet must have screamed bluff to him? Strange call.

The second opportunity to overbet was me repopping the pot for half my stack with ace queen.

Damn it's fun to gamble.

Or at least is was until a guy came over the top of me from the button. Now at this point I figure I'm beat but I have to call. I'm getting 3 to 1 on my money.

And like I said I bet half my stack. The other half was going in the flop no matter what came out of the deck.

In this spot I'm what's know in the poker business as "pot committed."

Meanwhile I have to be behind here. He either has a pair and we're racing.

Or worse for me he's gonna show me ace king.


This real live human being turns over ace 8 suited.

Yes. He reraised me all in with ace 8 suited.

Huh? Why? How? What's going on at poker tables in Las Vegas?

More importantly, if this guy is reraising me all in with ace 8 in a hand where I've gotta call, then American public schools are failing. This "man child" has been left behind. Someone get the President on the phone.

Incredibly the universe didn't let him suck out on me.

I'm still in shock. Both by his reraise. And the fact that my hand held up.

Now as you might remember at the start if this blog entry I said it wasn't my night. Here's why. Those are the only two hands I can remember winning.

No need to bore you with my pain. Lets cut to the end.

On the final hand of my night there were a couple of limpers and I decided to push all in with ace king preflop. If someone has a pair lets gamble. If they don't then good for me.

Everyone folded except for this one gentleman from Texas who literally looked at his watch and said "It's getting late. I call."

Then he turned over jack 8 offsuit.

Now I know that ace king loses to jack 8 all the time. I'm not going to discuss the math.

But a preflop ace king all in shouldn't get called by jack 8 because "it's getting late."

At least tell me something like "I'll give you action."

Or "I want to gamble."

Or "Jack 8 is my favorite hand. I have to play it."

But please don't tell me that you're gonna call me because "it's getting late."

I've read alot of poker books but I can't remember any of them ever recommending a call based on what time it is.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Shame on me

Just got home from another cash session. I had alot of swings and when all was said and done I was up an insignificant 60 bucks.

I'm glad I didn't do something really stupid since my cards went dead for a couple of hours and in the past when that's occurred I've managed to talk myself into playing some crap hands trying to get lucky. If anything the opposite occurred where I folded hands I should fold to raises but then watched in horror as my mucked hands flopped quads. This happened twice. Yep it was that kind of night.

So like I said I'm just happy I didn't do anything out of frustration to cost myself my entire stack. But there's one hand I gotta talk about before I go to sleep. One hand where I just wasn't thinking.

I'm in the big blind with 8,10 offsuit and get to see the flop in an unraised pot.

Flop is queen, 8, 2. Rainbow.

Small blind (a loose player) leads out for 12 bucks. I call him with my middle pair. I've seen him makes alot of moves with nothing and I don't mind calling him in this spot. Everyone else folds.

Turn is the 8 of diamonds.

This time he bets out 25. Now if I thought he was on a draw I'd reraise here. But since he also bet the flop I put him on a queen. Like I said he's loose so he could also still just be trying to steal the pot. I have position on him and I want him to bet out again on the river. So I don't reraise. I just smooth call the $25.

The river comes and it's a rag diamond. He checks to me.

There are no straight possibilities. But the rag diamond does put a flush possibility out there.

Here's where I got stupid. I bet $25.

Looking back on this now it's a complete asinine bet on my part. I should have just checked it down. This is one of those cases where I'm probably only getting called if I'm beat. But worse than getting called, he reraises me $75 more to make it $100 total.

So now I either have to lay down my trips (which staring at the board could easily be beat) or else I'm paying him off an extra $75 to see his cards.

Gross. And it's not even about the money. $100 makes no difference in the long term. It's about playing a hand so poorly on the river. Before I bet the river the best case scenario for me to get paid off was that he has a queen and calls me and so I make $25 more. That's really not so great of a best case scenario. The other possibility is that he's on a draw in which case he's just gonna fold so I'm not even gonna make any more money from him. However the worse case scenarios are plenty. He could have a flush. He could have an 8 with a better kicker. He could even have hit a full house.

All that my betting $25 did was open the door for me getting reraised. Sure his reraise could be him making a move. But I don't want to be a position where I have to call a big bet on the river with this hand. And that's exactly what I did to myself.

Now of course I could still fold at this point. But I accepted the additional $75 loss as tuition. Lets learn from this hand. So I call and he turns over 3,5 of diamonds for the flush.

Looking back on how he played the hand...he bet 12 on the flop with nothing. 5 high. And then $25 more on the turn when his flush became a long shot 1 in 6 possibility. Basically he was donating to me. He's exactly the kind of bad player I want to be playing with. My mistake though was giving him the chance to make any additional money when he actually hit his card on the river. Because if the flush misses on the river he's not putting any more money into the pot anyway. He's checking and then folding

I wasn't pissed about the "bad beat" of a runner runner flush coming out of the deck to beat me. That I can't control. But it was just plain silly for me to reopen the betting for such a small value bet on the river. Even if I couldn't put him on a flush draw. And of course if I really wanted to put more money into the pot I should have reraised him on the turn.

Shame on me.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

You have to be willing to lose your money.

I'm becoming more comfortable with the gambling side of cash game poker.

You put your money into the middle when good situations come up and hope for the best.

You bet to protect your hand even when it might not be the best hand.

You don't try to imagine all the worst case scenarios and try to cut your losses. You leave that to the other players.

If you lose, you lose.

But you gotta gamble if you wanna win big.

I went to Caesars last night to play in their 7pm tournament but it had less spots than usual due to taping the NBC Headsup tournament thing there.

Here's Shana Hiatt walking by my table on the way out. Check out how smooth I'm getting shooting over my shoulder in my blue jacket with my phone camera.

So with no tournament for me to play I went and sat at the first available cash table. This turned out to be a 1/3 no limit table. I bought in for $300.

From the second I sat down I was completely open to the idea of losing my $300. No one else at my table played loose and I took advantage by giving them alot of action. If someone had more than $100 dollars in chips I'd basically call any preflop raise in position. I was there to gamble.

A perfect example came in my first orbit at the table. I'm holding pocket jacks on a 9,10, queen flop. Preflop raiser bets out. In the old days I could fold to "save money" (not thinking that I'm actually losing out on winning a big pot) or call and hope to get lucky on the turn. But I'm there to gamble. Even if he has a top pair hand like Ace queen it's a real dangerous board for him. I ask him how much he has to see how much my reraise will hurt him. We basically have the same chips. I push all in. And the fact that he doesn't immediately call me makes me feel great. I'm more than happy to take down the pot right now. If he calls and I'm ahead that's great too. Even if he has a hand like pocket aces I'm still gonna win this pot 40% of the time when an 8, king, jack or runner runner flush comes.

I'm there to gamble.

Another hand I call a preflop raise to 15 with 6,8 clubs. Three of us see the flop: An ace with two clubs. He bets 10 dollars into a 45 dollar pot. Uh okay, I call.

Turn misses me but he checks!

River brings a club. I bet 50. Poor kid calls and as I'm pulling the pot in with my flush he shows me ace 10. So basically he checked on the turn when he had the best hand and called on the river when he had the worst hand. It's fear poker.

He tells me after the hand that he thought his 10 might be outkicked. The problem with this school of thought is that if you're gonna play ace 10, you gotta bet it when your ace comes. Or to put it another way, it's reasonable for him to think he might be outkicked but if he doesn't feel comfortable betting it when he hits then he shouldn't be playing it.

I had another hand with another guy and same thing happens. He minibets flop when I have small suited connector flush draw. This time I get creative and reraise him. He calls. I miss on turn and amazingly he leads out with another minibet! It was so absurd that for a moment I wondered if he was trapping me with a bigger flush draw. Still I call.

I miss on the river and should be done with the hand unless I want to bluff. He leads out with another minibet. He he. I can only win if I bluff and make him fold but I just can't resist seeing his cards. And besides it's just 20 dollars. A week and a half ago I made fun of guy at 2/5 for calling my $200 river bet because $200 meant nothing to him. And now I've become that guy.

I call and yep he shows top pair. Interestingly enough this same guy freaked out later on in the evening when his pocket aces got cracked by a flush draw. Someone needs to tell him to bet more to protect his hands.

Playing against players like this makes poker easy. This must be what it feels like for people like Phil Ivey when they play against the rest of the world. For me it only occurs right now at 1/3. Although that might be too harsh on myself. I've played at higher limits but I think the key is feeling comfortable losing your money on the table. So it's not that I can't play with the rich guys at 25/50 no limit. It's that I don't have the bankroll and thus the stomach yet to play correctly. At this level I'd be sitting back waiting to trap them. Rather than be willing to play correctly. And by correctly I mean willing to lose my money.